Life for husband who murdered 'devoted' wife

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

The husband of a building society manageress was jailed for life yesterday for murdering his wife after a jury rejected his story that the couple were victims of a gang of armed robbers.

Gordon Wardell, 42, had claimed that he had been drugged and gagged by criminals for 16 hours during a raid.

A jury at Oxford Crown Court unanimously rejected his story and decided he strangled his 39-year-old wife Carol last September and dumped her in a lay-by near Nuneaton, in Warwickshire.

Sentencing Wardell, Mr Justice Cresswell said: "You are an extremely dangerous, evil and devious man. You killed your wife in a brutal manner then cynically attempted to escape detection by going to elaborate lengths to make it appear that your crime was the work of a gang of robbers.

"This murder was an outrage to your wife, her family, and to everybody who knew her."

There were gasps of "yes" from the public gallery and Mrs Wardell's mother, Joan, burst into tears. Wardell, a 6ft 3ins tall fitness fanatic, looked pale and shook his head.

Before passing sentence the court was told of a previous conviction when Wardell, as a 17-year-old student, was jailed for four years for wounding with intent after indecently assaulting and stabbing the wife of his science master.

The murder trial was told that Wardell staged a raid at the Nuneaton branch of the Woolwich building society, stealing pounds 14,000 and leaving one of his wife's sandals in the office in an attempt to cover his tracks. He bound and gagged himself at the couple's home in Meriden, Warwickshire, where he was found by police. He told them a gang had kidnapped his wife, who was found suffocated.

Carol Wardell's mother, Joan Heslop, 67, welcomed the guilty verdict and said that her daughter could now "rest in peace". She said: "She loved life. To have it taken away so tragically in such a way was terrible."

Mrs Heslop said she had suspected her son-in-law since the day after the funeral where Wardell had continued his charade of the grieving widower. "It was just a mother's feeling I suppose," she said.

Mrs Wardell's sister, Susan Field, 42, said: "Carol was the linchpin of the family. She kept us together because the family meant everything to her."

Detective Superintendent Tony Bayliss, who led the murder investigation, said that a motive for the killing has never been fully established though one theory was that Wardell was at risk of losing his job as an executive for a car parts company. "Inevitably it led to financial problems but I believe the murder was domestically oriented," said Mr Bayliss.

Carol Wardell was described as devoted to her husband, whom she married in 1982. She was said to have concentrated on her career at the Woolwich after finding out she could not have children.

The court was told that Wardell had not had sex with his wife for six months before her death and the relationship worsened because he had suffered a period of redundancy.